Your Chicken May Soon Be Less Likely to Contain Salmonella
New USDA standards for poultry aim to reduce foodborne illness in the U.S.
You like to cook chicken because it’s easy, versatile and low in fat. But you hate to handle it because you know it could be contaminated with salmonella (which is why it’s so important to cook it to a safe internal temperature and wash your knives and cutting boards thoroughly — and to never rinse your chicken).
Salmonella is the leading cause of foodborne bacterial illness in the United States. But two tough new food safety measures aimed at poultry companies should make your chicken and turkey safer to eat and reduce your chance of getting food poisoning.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced a stricter limit on salmonella bacteria in chicken and turkey products — a move they say will lead to 50,000 fewer cases of foodborne illness each year.
In addition, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) eventually will post information online about each poultry processing plant’s food safety performance for consumers to see.
"These new standards, in combination with greater transparency about poultry companies' food safety performance and better testing procedures, will help prevent tens of thousands of foodborne illnesses every year,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release.
FSIS issued food safety standards for whole chickens in 1996, but standards for chicken parts were nonexistent. Salmonella levels increase as the chicken is cut into parts, and chicken parts represent 80 percent of the chicken available to American consumers, the USDA says.
In fact, as NPR reports, “Even when companies wash chicken carcasses after slaughter, the USDA has found the bacteria on about a quarter of all cut-up chicken parts heading for supermarket shelves.”
Now, companies will be required to reduce the frequency of contaminated chicken parts to 15 percent or less, NPR reports. According to Food Safety News, the new standards demand salmonella contamination rates of no more than 25 percent in ground chicken and 13.5 percent in ground turkey.
Plus, the meat will be tested for salmonella and campylobacter “at a point closer to the final product,” FSIS says, reducing consumer exposure to those two types of bacteria.
Related: How to Tell if Chicken is Bad
Symptoms of foodborne illnesses caused by salmonella include diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. They can take 12 to 72 hours to appear. Most people don’t need treatment and feel better within four to seven days. Salmonella can cause more serious illness in infants, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.
Campylobacter causes about 1.3 million foodborne illnesses each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, fever and cramps. Most people get better after two to 10 days without specific treatment, the CDC says.
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